“The key to addressing diversity and gender balance is to identify where any imbalance is occurring and the likely reasons for this.”
Marian Bloodworth is a partner at law firm Kemp Little, based in London. Marian’s particular expertise is in helping clients in the financial services sector manage their legal risk. She has been recognised as a Women In Law 2016 Employment Lawyer, Lawyer Monthly, and is a Who’s Who Legal Recognised Practitioner for Labour and Employment 2016. In this interview, she shared her thoughts on current trends in the recruitment and HR industry, particularly from the diversity and gender balance point of view.
Marian, can you tell us little bit more about Kemp Little and your role in the organisation?
Kemp Little is a boutique law firm, specialising in technology and digital media. This means that we advise clients in an increasingly wide range of sectors, as just about every business these days uses technology to enhance its offering to customers, clients and employees, and also to improve internal efficiencies. We act for a range of businesses, from start-ups through to listed companies, professional services firms, major airlines, financial services, national health trusts and many others.
I am an employment partner and my role is to help businesses manage their people risk, i.e. the issues that can arise at any stage of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment through to exit – and in some cases, litigation. We also advise senior executives – typically when they are either joining or leaving their employer.
What are the main HR challenges of businesses and/or individuals you’ve been helping recently through your work?
I deal with a number of financial services clients, so the main issue for them currently is balancing compliance with strict regulatory requirements and good employment practice – whilst being unsure what implications Brexit has for their industry going forward.
A number of our clients will be caught by the forthcoming Gender Pay Gap reporting regulations which apply to businesses with 250 employees or more as at 5 April 2017. We are helping them to work out what they should be reporting and also what steps they can take to address and reduce the gender pay gap in their businesses for future years. Brexit uncertainty has caused some employers to review their business structures, and we are starting to see some reorganisations and in some cases, redundancy programmes.
How can companies improve diversity and gender balance in their teams (best practices and examples)?
All companies are different and will have their own issues on this front. The key to addressing diversity and gender balance is to identify where any imbalance is occurring and the likely reasons for this. Businesses can then consider what targeted steps they can take to improve (for example, it may be that recruitment needs to be done from a wider pool of candidates) or the issues may be more internal, in that women and employees from minorities need more support, whether in terms of training, coaching or mentoring in order to feel better equipped to move to more senior roles.
Considering how the organisation looks to potential recruits is also important – highlighting diversity initiatives on the website. So, being seen at events promoting and encouraging diversity and gender balance are practical steps that can pay off by encouraging job applications from a wide range of candidates. As with any business initiative, having senior executive buy in and support is key.
Encouraging more women in the workplace (especially in tech) is such a hot topic – are there any industries where you don’t see an imbalance?
The issues around women in the workplace vary from sector to sector. In some, such as professional services, the issue does not arise so much at entry level, where the number of women joining is high, but rather lies in ensuring that women continue to progress to more senior roles.
Some industries may be more likely to have a strong female demographic in any event – for example luxury retail, but that still does not mean that they will necessarily be well represented at the more senior end of the organisation. However, the progress being made by the Women on Boards initiatives is a sign that change is happening – albeit gradual.
In your opinion, what will be the main HR trends for SMEs in the next few years, from the legal point of view?
Firstly, managing the risks of discrimination. This is particularly in light of the uncertainty regarding overseas workers caused by Brexit, which as we have already seen, has led to an increase in instances of discriminatory and harassing behaviour by employees on racial and religious grounds.
Then, tackling the legal issues thrown up by the changes to the way in which we are all working. The gig economy is challenging established ways of working, but risks denying workers basic rights. Managing a flexible workforce fairly will be very important going forward.
Also, data protection and confidentiality issues in the workplace, given the introduction in 2018 of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the increased use of technology at work, and the blurring of lines between personal and work based behaviour and communications.